We are well past Veteran’s Day, a day I always find myself conflicted, and could almost let this one pass. Almost, but not quite. Because I strongly believe that if we weren’t so military, that if making war on people didn’t seem to be our country’s primary business, we might have money to spend on getting ready for the many problems that face us instead of focussing on the the fake problems of “terrorism” and “drugs” and “Iran,” motives for our current wars since we lost the bugaboo of the “red menace.” Heck, there might be money for things like state of the art ferries.
“Supporting the troops” is a phrase that has no real meaning unless it means “shut up criticizing our wars.” Real support of the troops means making certain that contracts made with them for benefits are upheld. Instead, “Support the troops” leads to celebrations where school kids are subjected to glorifying military service. I realize this is a very touchy area. Veterans such as myself are justifiably proud that we were in the military. But we are proud for various reasons; not necessarily proud of the wars we were involved in or all the actions that took place.
The Petraeus scandal, among other things, demonstrates that Generals are pretty normal human beings. The modern general is much like any corporate CEO who fights or cheats his or her way up the ladder. Petraeus has been a master of PR for a good part of his career (most recent events excepted). All In:The Education of General David Petraeus is a pretty good example of how he co-opted the media. Now, having violated America’s standards he will finally be subjected to a no holds barred analysis of his career.
I just finished reading a book called, The Man Who Saved the Union, a biography of Ulysses S. Grant who ended up being the 1860s equivalent of a four star and then a two term president who presided over a very tough period of history called “Reconstruciton.”
Grant’s PR was pretty bad until he started winning battles and then won the Civil War. In the later part of the nineteenth century he was the most famous man in America and actually world famous. He hated to give a speech and was well-known for being self-effacing. This tradition continued through WWII.
Consider this photo.
Dwight Eisenhower, who actually won a war like Grant, wears a single row of ribbons. Petraeus, who sandbagged a President into authorizing a “surge,” displays some 30 decorations on his blouse.
What civilians don’t recognize is that Petraeus’s awards are the equivalent of merit badges signifying that he has, “been there and done that.” He has one medal for valor, a Bronze Star with a “V” device. The rest are service ribbons or unit citations.
I don’t know when it started, perhaps in the Vietnam era, but there has been a lot of inflation where medals are concerned. You can’t even be certain about the hero ribbons. I would like to think that most are earned. For example, in the Air Force in Vietnam, if you flew 15 combat missions you received an Air Medal. You got this if you were a prop plane pilot flying low level night bombing missions or a B-52 pilot dropping bombs from 25,000′. I can’t speak for every combat unit in every service but in the last combat wing I served in in the Air Force you had to write your own citation to get most medals, e.g. a Distinguished Flying Cross. A DFC was important to a pilot on his career resume.
As far as I’m concerned anyone who gets in a combat aircraft and flies into enemy territory to drop a bomb ought to get a medal. But, it doesn’t work that way. Cuz that’s the job. To get a DFC or a Silver Star or and Air Force Cross one is supposed to do something exceptional. Many did and got medals they deserved.
But then, there’s Road Cut McAlister, a Major, a pilot, a career officer who wanted that next promotion to Lt. Colonel and who hadn’t done anything really exceptional when the President called a bombing halt in 1966. Major McAlister was concerned. He had no DFC. On his most recent mission before the halt he had dropped a bomb on a road. As we said then, he had “interdicted” it. It was repaired by the next day by small men with picks and shovels. But, McAlister, to the disgust of his fellow pilots, wrote himself up for a Distinguished Flying Cross As it turned out, after bombing resumed, he did a lot of stuff that was braver and more heroic than a simple interdiction. But his career panic earned him a nickname that stuck for the rest of his tour.
Glorifying military service is tricky business. Soldiers, sailors and airmen deserve our thanks for serving. I appreciate being invited to the school for their function and to my grandkids schools for their Veteran’s Day functions. But I’ve decided I won’t go. Just send me the check every month and give me that medical benefit you promised. That’s more than enough.
A war culture with overhyped threats distracts us from every real problem that we face and will be required to deal with.